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Present Laughter - Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Alison Smith on 11th Jul 2016 | View all blogs by Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith 11th July 2016

Present Laughter

Laughter is what is needed in Britain at the moment and this light, frothy comedy, Present Laughter by Noel Coward, written in 1939, still induces mirth in 2016. The play makes fun of British society in the 1930s and, semi-autobiographically, of Coward himself, the ageing actor who feels that the world is passing him by, that all the fun is being had elsewhere. Coward himself played the role of Garry Essendine many times, but it is Samuel West who now has that part and steps into Coward’s shoes most successfully. His timing is ‘spot-on’ and his delivery of the sarcastic barbs, ‘ripping’. 

For this is High Society England between the wars; the actor, Essendine, lives in an elegant town house complete with butler and maid. He wears a variety of flamboyant silk dressing gowns, drinks preprandial sherry in the morning and is hounded by beautiful women. Essendine’s every appearance on stage is an entrance, and every conversation is an extravagance. In the first act he dismisses the previous night’s lover, Daphne, with curt tenderness and is ready to face the problems of a fading, egotistic celebrity – the fan mail, the ardent young playwright, the ex-wife, the affairs of his entourage. The problems Essendine has to deal with are not world-shattering, the aspiring actress (who turns out to be Daphne), his manager who is reputed to be having an affair with his producer’s wife (Joanna), but Joanna in fact lusts after Essendine and so on and so forth. Ultimately, the ex-wife, Liz, and ex-husband, Garry, reunite. All these issues are dealt with comically, even farcically, but with superb style. West is able to slip naturally from the role of caring boss to irritated ex-husband, and it is because of this ability to change personality that one begins to wonder if there is in fact a Garry Essendine, or if his whole life is just a performance. 

The matinee idol is attended by a selection of excellent co-stars. Phyllis Logan excels in the part of Monica, his drab, unflappable secretary. Rebecca Johnson has the role of the down-to-earth ex-wife, who is not only self-aware but clearly aware of Garry’s pandering entourage, and Patrick Walshe McBride is outstanding as the gauche, fixated writer. Simon Higlett’s set design is appropriate, the costumes exemplary, the lighting first-class. 

The play is just triviality, frivolity and fun, but it is a well-performed, well-executed production. It made me laugh, and I was grateful for the opportunity.

Present Laughter is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 16th July. 

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 2 years ago
    Thanks for your review, Alison. I could use a good laugh myself!
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